Climbing mountains is full of dangers and filled with unknown perils along the way. A treacherous journey! But I am not afraid. Or should I? I don’t know. But I am always at peace when I climb mountains, the only thing I think about is the adventure, the beauty and the feeling of joy when I reach the top, nothing can give you the excitement or the thrill of reaching the top. Nothing can buy that. The journey is: tough, painful, tiring, unforgiving and harsh, but remember the view is beautiful only after the hardest climb. I still remember a beautiful quote written on a board while climbing Dzükou valley few years back just before reaching the top it said, “If you feel like climbing to Dzükou is tough then you can’t go to heaven”. How true!
A companion among us complained that some walked too fast. We should wait for each other. I understand it’s not easy, we are all tired. Some places, even though it weren’t that steep, due to very low level of oxygen we got tired so quickly. Our heart may say ‘you can do it’, but our legs didn’t cooperate and we had to rest a little every while. It was called ‘air blanket’. Since the level of oxygen is so low in some altitude it affects the bone marrow which later creates problems in the knees. ‘Altitude sickness’ is the other term. As one of our companions kept complaining, one of our brothers stopped and calmly replied to his complaint saying, “You can’t go to heaven with your best friend. Its either you work hard, or he has to work hard.” And he had to accept the bitter truth painfully.
Our guide who was leading us at the head was very quiet, a person of few word, he walked slowly but it was still so difficult to catch up with him. I was astonished by his strength. He had inhuman strength, our bodies got dehydrated very quickly; one moment we might be walking right behind him, pause for a moment to rest, open our eyes the next moment, and he is gone. We walked for miles across steep and inhospitable terrain; hours past, we asked our guide, “Are we there yet?” “Yes!” was his reply. We walk for hours and hours again, we asked him yet again, “Are we there yet?” “Yes!” was his reply again. But I knew he was lying. Looking at our face he must have realized we were giving up. For he knew, telling the truth will only let our spirit down. It took us five and half hours to reach the base camp, we were the first group. Some took six, while the last group took around seven and half hours. In this kind of journey one cannot tarry along or keep waiting on for one another, else the whole as a group suffers. Only those people who have gone through such trudging expedition will understand. Soon after we reached the base camp we didn’t waste much time and headed on straight to cook dinner. We wanted to rest as much as possible after dinner and save our last ounce of energy for the summit the next morning. The base camp had a small make-shift kind of shelter for trekkers and it was in a bad shape. After dinner we quickly settled down on the hard ground to rest. The space was a little too small to accommodate all of us for a comfortable sleep. Horizontal! Vertical! Diagonal! We somehow managed to adjust ourselves. But I had a problem, after walking all those hours my legs had already taken enough toil. And the story didn’t end there. I have long legs and 20 people were now sleeping together in a congested space. It was so difficult to stretch my legs and instantly at that moment the only thought that came to my already distress mind was my comfortable bed at home. To add to my misery the rain and hailstorm came back and let me say no more of how my night was. I don’t know how long I slept. My mind was completely wrestling with discomfort and as soon as I thought I closed my eyes to sleep, a voice woke us up. It was one of our guide, “It’s already pass 3:00 am, wake up we are already late” he said. My body and my mind, at that moment were constantly disagreeing with the fact that I was there in the first place. And it greatly hindered my conscience and my courage because I was completely disillusioned by pain. But something inside me told me that ‘there’s more than just the pain I am going through, for pain turns you to God’. “Scars and struggles on the way, but never once did we walk alone….” a song I remembered from my college days was enough to regenerate my strength and courage to continue my journey to the summit. Now you must be wondering why wake up at 3:00 am, when we could have rested properly and climb the summit after daylight. Believe me we also said the same thing, but we were wrong. From the base camp to make it to the summit there was one big hurdle, a steep climb. An endless steep stretch! I don’t know how long. If I have seen that in broad day light in my weakened condition, I would have simply said ‘No’. But under the canopy of dense fog and pitch darkness, no one saw it and that’s how we continued our journey.
Dawn was breaking slowly as we made each step closer and closer to the top, and with each steps my mind was now constantly wrestling with the pain. But this time it was a different kind of pain. ‘Pain’ but now I have hope, ‘pain’ but now I have courage, ‘pain’ but now I have confidence- that it was never a bad decision to take this journey.
Can you ever imagine a world without pain or suffering? Without pain or suffering, we would never realize if our body is hurt or sick. Then do you believe that our world would be a better place if there was no pain, and we are senseless to the reality of evil? Our body might fester of wounds and we might not realize it. Pain has a gift to it. It makes us sensitive to degrading and contagious evil of this world. Or in a way it keeps us alive. Or it makes us more alive and conscious to the reality or truth. Battling and conquering over pain gives us a thriving sense of being alive, a direction, a purpose and a new strength. Or a thrill! Or imagine a mountaineer achieving his goal without going through any struggle or pain. Where is the fun and adventure in that? I know firsthand, that pain and suffering sometimes seems to push away the presence of God. But pain is valuable, even essential, for life on the planet because in a related way, pain and suffering can become a valuable instrument in accomplishing God’s goals for human beings. Suffering is one of the tools to help fashion the good qualities like perseverance or patience.
After two and a half hours, we were now just few kilometers to make it to the top. But believe me the last hurdle was humongous. But at the same time the view was breathtaking, indescribable; no words could describe or give justice to its beauty. The hymn writers were true when they sang, “The sky filled with His glory, the Earth is telling His Mystery”. Every breath taken, every pain we went through was worth it, to see such wonderful works of our Lord Creator. It totally blew my mind. Another half-hour and we made it to the top. Should we shout, or laugh, or cry, or should we just smile, we didn’t know. I honestly was not able to comprehend my emotions at that moment. All I did was just gaze, my eyes upon the heavens, and whispered, “THANK YOU!” Although I knew at that moment saying it wasn’t enough. But I know for certain, God must have heard, because I felt it in my heart though He spoke no word.
From our limited human perspective, we cannot know with certainty how to interpret life’s experiences, but honestly my experience to Mount Saramati will stay with me for a long time. Philip Yancey said in his book ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ a beautiful thought – “When I am old, I hope I do not spend my days between sterile sheets, hooked up to a respirator in a germ-free environment, protected from the hazards of the world outside. I hope I’m straining my heart with a septuagenarian overhead perhaps on a final hike, huffing and puffing along a trail for one more feel of the spray against my wrinkled cheek. In short I hope I do not so insulate myself from pain that I no longer feel pleasure in doing what I love”. I say the same prayer too today, I don’t know for certain what my life will hold for me. Twenty five years and eleven months I have lived as I pen down these thoughts, incredible and unimaginable as to even think how I have come this far, yet it has not been an easy ride. Sir Edmund Hillary said, “When we climb mountains we don’t conquer mountains but we conquer and overcome ourselves”. Failures, disappointments, fear and sickness can sometimes be the mountain in our own life too and it’s never easy and I agree. But always remember the view is beautiful only after the hardest climb.